Monday, 11th December 2023

Efforts to revive coal city economy begins with investment summit

By Geoff Iyatse
04 September 2023   |   4:06 am
Enugu was a strategic city in the post-colonial economy of Nigeria. But with the deprivation of the last few decades, the city lost its vigour.

Deputy High Commissioner, UK High Commission, Nigeria, Jonny Baxter (left); Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah; Chief Economist and Vice President, African Development Bank, Prof. Kevin Urama; and the Country Director, World Bank, Shubham Chaudhuri, during the Enugu State Investment and Economic Growth Stakeholders Roundtable held in Enugu at the weekend.

Enugu was a strategic city in the post-colonial economy of Nigeria. But with the deprivation of the last few decades, the city lost its vigour. With the Enugu State Investment Roundtable held at the weekend, efforts to reinvent the economy of the famous coal city have started in earnest. GEOFF IYATSE writes that the state government needs more than determination to get the plan to speed.

Last week, the Enugu Investment Roundtable was held in fulfillment of Gov. Peter Mbah’s electioneering promise to convey the event within his first 100 days in office. But the summit, in terms of organisation, agenda and participation, was miles ahead of the symbolism of fulfilling a campaign promise.

Of course, it provided an opportunity for the governor and his team to reel their ambitious economic blueprint, which Mbah said would disrupt the existing economy and mark the beginning of a new phase. But more importantly, it gave representatives of the World Bank, African Development Bank, African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and dozens of investment bankers to assess the economic agenda firsthand and advise the government on models it could adopt to de-risk the market and prepare the project for bankability.

As with other Nigerians, the endless wait for good governance is a mental torture an average Enugu citizen can endure. Perhaps, Mbah understands the sentiment and connects with it inadequate his “tomorrow is here” mantra. It was his campaign payoff but he has turned it into a working governance philosophy, drawing his team members to the need to approach public service delivery with a reasonable sense of urgency.

In the first weeks in office, Mbah showed his zeal to embrace a new approach to governance by digitizing certificate of occupancy (C-of-O) and reducing turnaround time – from application to collection of the important title used for measuring the ease of doing business – to 72 hours. Some of his team members told The Guardian at the summit that the new process even delivers in 48 hours.

But speakers and investors said delivery on the demand of ‘tomorrow is here’ and good governance, especially in an environment of do-gooding is tough and that timely completion of C-of-O is a minute measure of its success. They admitted the governor has demonstrated sufficient courage to make the desired difference and lay a foundation for a new governance culture. But they were desirous to know his ready to weather the coming storm and damn the consequences of sacrificing the demands of career politicians, who think of public service as a meal ticket, to pursue the common good.

The World Bank, AfDB, Afrexibank and other development partners promised to partner with the state government in its effort to transform the sub-national economy and grow its gross domestic product (GDP) from its current $4 billion to $30 billion in eight years, a tough target that takes the state to among top five in the country. They will also work with the state government to firm up risk guarantees and de-risk the market in the coming months leading to another meeting tagged diaspora forum to be held next April.

Ambitious economic agenda
Enugu sits on the richest coal deposit in Nigeria and was given a spot in the old order owing to the vastness of the resource. However, the government understands that the global economy has moved with little or no emphasis on coal anymore. Yet, Mbah said the state has a competitive advantage in several areas to leapfrog the economy. Hence, from transport to agro-business, the new administration has a project that meets the areas of interest of every investor. As listed by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Chidi Onyia, the projects cut across all the local governments of the 17 local government areas.

The economic roadmap includes a plan to construct a new cargo terminal full runway and modernisation of the existing Akanu Ibiam International Airport. There will also be a cargo warehouse to support the vision of scaling up the aviation facility to service the Eastern economy.

The government also intends to turn the airport into an airline maintenance hub with a planned MRO construction. The airport expansion concept is to be delivered under a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement.

As part of the grand cargo movement infrastructure plan, there is also the Enugu Inland Waterways Project (Ogurugu Port Development) that is proposed to serve as a transshipment terminal for Lagos, Onne ports as well as support shipment to Onitsha (Anambra state), Lokoja (Kogi state) and Baro (Niger state). The project, which is expected to leverage the PPP financing model, will require a jetty approach, dredging and navigational aids for cargo handling. There will also be documentation centres, laboratories, a cargo village and a storage facility that will function as a chain.

Under transport, the government is also offering an investment opportunity for a multi-functional inland port facility in Ette, a border town between Enugu and Kogi. The facility will be part of the cargo business ecosystem. The town where the inland port will be located is also expected to be connected with a 41.5-kilometre truck ‘B’ highway, which is touted to reduce travel time to the north by 90 minutes and improve the efficiency of the logistics chains along the corridor.

In line with the global energy transition and recent demand for the removal of fuel subsidies, the state government is also pitching a bus rapid transit to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) and electric-powered buses as well as serve as a demonstration project for climate-smart investment partnerships the government is seeking.

The Mbah-led administration also plans to champion an investment campaign for an electric-powered light rail system that will connect major economic centres and ports. According to the concept note, the rail will expose Enugu to regional markets to increase the commercial viability of the manufacturing and agro projects.

To develop the abundant mineral resources the state is known for, the government is proposing mineral and mining industrial zones that will be replicated across different parts of the state. Onyia informed participants at the summit that the zones would utilise the vast natural resources to produce steel, clinker, lime, marble and kaolin.

There are also dozens of agriculture and industrial projects the government has conceptualised. Beef production and processing facilities, green agro-allied industrial zones, green manufacturing and gas industrial parks are some of the initiatives.

To power the economic blueprint, there are energy concepts such as a 350 gas-to-power plant, green power park and rural electrification to be sited in different locations. In the service areas also are proposed New Enugu Smart City, International Conference Centre at Independence Layout, Enugu and several others.

Mbah came to the public sector with a track record of being an achiever in the private sector. For instance, he threw the hat into the highly-competitive oil and gas as a latecomer but grew his business to clinch 23 per cent of the market it operates in less than two decades. His admirers said he would achieve his dreams of building a new Enugu with his focus and forthrightness. However, a few participants said he could be overwhelmed except he streamlined and focused on a few deliverables.

Mbah promises a disruptive approach
The government admitted, during an interview with The Guardian, that conventional approach funding and thinking would constrain the growth of the economy. Hence, the need to adopt an innovative and disruptive approach.

“First, this government will shift economic activity away from low-productivity activities towards high-productivity activities. The implementation of the state’s Integrated Sector-based Productivity Growth Strategy will ensure that those sectors with the greatest growth potential are supported through measures to reduce unnecessary regulation and boost innovation and growth, and their capacity to become more competitive through value addition and participation in global value chains is expanded.

“This strategy aims to attract globally competitive industries to Enugu, ensuring that we meet our $30 billion GDP growth target through accelerated competitiveness and industrialisation. The development of the State’s Integrated Sector-based Productivity Growth Strategy placed squarely into focus those sectors that may hold latent comparative advantage and the need for a systematic approach and practical steps to scale up Enugu’s industrial base. Agriculture and agro-allied industrialisation, energy and mineral resources, transportation and logistics, ICT, creative industries, tourism and hospitality are among the priority sectors identified in the State’s Integrated Sector-based Productivity Growth Plan, which will be supported by the expansion of urban and rural infrastructure,” the governor said.

Mbah’s disruption would also mean cutting down the cost of governance. That may have started if the revelation by the deputy governor, Ifeanyi Ossai, is true. Ossai said the government has not purchased a single vehicle for any official in the past three months they have assumed leadership “not because we do not need them” but as a result of the high opportunity cost, which includes forfeiting feasibility studies and other programmes the state must execute to attract private investors to the state.

In this article